When I was a student at the University of Maryland in the first half of the 2000s, I sometimes would pick a class per semester that had the most rudimentary material and the biggest lecture, skip when I could and go play golf. It was glorious. I purchased a student membership to the campus golf course, and I could play unlimited golf for $250 per semester from Monday to Friday. I spent countless hours improving my game and enjoying the freedom of college life (and my grades didn’t suffer).
I rarely see the Maryland golf course these days; I belong to a club, and there are way closer options otherwise. However, whenever I’ve passed campus in the 12 years since I got out of grad school, I always smile at the golf course thinking of the time I spent there.
Now, though, the current university administration and a significant chunk of the student body look at that land as a solution to their problems. The 150-acre golf course is by far the largest undeveloped acreage (11.2 percent of total land) on campus, and the rest of the University of Maryland is crammed. A student housing shortage has been filled by overpriced, off-campus luxury apartments, but the campus continues to expand its educational and research footprint with more, bigger buildings. Parking spaces are increasing becoming a luxury, lost to construction projects galore. Meanwhile, students are looking for more recreational space to keep up with burgeoning intramural athletic programs.
All that to say: There’s been a movement afoot to use the land reserved for the golf course to assuage some demands.
Carlo Colella, the university vice-president for administration and finance, proposed a preliminary plan in July 2018 that called for developing five flood-lit athletic fields on four holes (1, 9, 10 and 18), along with a track-and-field complex and 600 parking spaces. Colella’s plan hopes to address parking spaces lost to the renovation of Cole Field House into an indoor football practice facility and the construction of the Purple Line extension of the Metro system.
Colella has met with a variety of campus stakeholders, including on an emergency Dec. 4 meeting with the 36-member Residence Hall Association of student representatives, sharing the plan. The RHA voted 34-2 in preliminary support of the exploring the plan further.
One of Colella’s selling points is the underutilization of the course by students, faculty and staff, saying they only account for 20 percent of the estimated 35,000 rounds played there each year. However, more than 70 campus groups, alumni organizations and other local groups use the course regularly to raise money for various causes. It’s a source of pride for alumni, and local golfers love playing there. Students would contend backlogs of intramural sports and poor scheduling — some games for the 14 intramural sports are scheduled as late as 1 a.m. — are more harmful to them than the golf course is good for the university and its surrounding community.
There are environmental concerns, particularly about potential runoff from developing the golf course land. The course has Audubon International designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary-Golf Course and designations as a certified Monarch waystation and a certified butterfly habitat.
The Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club wrote to outgoing university president Wallace Loh in October in opposition to the plan. The letter cites the lack of a specific proposal — which Colella says doesn’t exist because he’s been working more to drum up support than offer finalized details and estimates — as a concern, suggesting there’s no justification offered against the University Facilities Master Plan, which covers 2011-2030. The FMP was updated in February 2018 to run through 2030.
The FMP authorizes the university to construct four additional playing fields on land along Fraternity Row on Route 1, which runs through a portion of campus. Fields are also authorized to be built on the roof of parking garages, which the university had long offered as a vertical solution to the ground parking problem while saying it would discourage more single-use vehicles on campus in the future. However, with pending construction of two campus parking garages and the off-site parking available from three nearby Purple Line stops coming in 2022, it’s dubious if there is a need for 600 new parking spaces despite mounting lost parking.
Then again, those parking spaces would be convenient to sell to donors for Maryland football games. Meanwhile, students and faculty would have to cross busy Maryland Route 193 on foot to reach the main campus from those spots. They would be great for tailgating, not for making class on time.
Metro, which is building the 21-stop light-rail line, has offered to finance moving the school’s field-events area for track and field from its current position at the university’s soccer complex Ludwig Field to an undeveloped space. Ludwig Field, home to the enormously successful soccer programs, is slated for an upgrade and more seating in the 2020s.
This isn’t the first time this decade the university community has turned its eyes to the golf course as a potential solution for a space problem. In 2013, officials considered building an “academic village” and commercial space on the golf course. That plan was ultimately rejected after pressure from campus stakeholders and elected officials.
Loh, who is retiring at the end of the academic year following the controversy surrounding the death of Maryland football player Jordan McNair while in the school’s care, was an advocate of the 2013 development. Now, walking out the door, he could uproot 60 years of golf tradition at the campus course. The plan must get past the university’s Independent Site Review Committee first, then its Facilities Council in December or January, but then it’s up to Loh to approve or reject the plan.
If the Colella plan advances and is approved, the university’s men’s and women’s golf teams could be without a sufficient home — not only during the purported 18-month construction period but beyond. A 14-hole course would be an embarrassment for a golf program period, much less one in the Big Ten Conference that hosted the conference golf championship each of the last two seasons (at Baltimore Country Club).
Colella contends an opposing notion: The school’s lack of recreational athletic fields isn’t becoming of the school compared to its Big Ten peers. The average in the Big Ten is 58 acres of outdoor recreational fields; Maryland has 20.
If not an awkward 14-hole course, then a nine-hole course could be an asset for students, faculty and staff, but it would likely lose much of the support it has for outings and events. Larger tournament fields and outings simply will not choose a course with less than 18 holes.
In the RHA meeting, Colella said he believes there is a possibility the development could happen and an 18-hole golf course remain, albeit with four new holes. That was likely lip service, not only to this proposed development but a broader goal of killing the golf course — a space Loh said in 2013 he couldn’t see remaining in 20 years’ time. The four holes slated for their demise are the ones most central to the course: where rounds start and where rounds end. They’re the space the golfer sees first when they get out of the car. Reimagining the course to start on holes hundreds of yards away from the clubhouse is a foolish exercise. And that might be the point.
It’s easy to see this proposal as a gateway to further develop the golf course land. Building athletic fields and parking spaces inconvenient for most students and faculty to access campus could be a first phase in dozing over the entire course.